Eagles' Villanueva 'feels like a football player again'

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Eagles' Villanueva 'feels like a football player again'

It’s been a while since Alejandro Villanueva could call himself a football player.

For Villanueva, a former U.S. Army captain who spent the past four years in the military (see story), the Eagles’ OTAs over the past three weeks have been the first time he's participated in football activities since a tryout with the Cincinnati Bengals following his senior season at Army in 2009.

“I feel like a football player again,” Villanueva said following the Eagles' OTA on Tuesday. “I feel like I’m doing all the requirements that all the other players are doing, so I feel like I’m part of the team.”

However, his time with the Eagles so far hasn’t had much in common with his football experience at Army.

At 6-foot-9 and 277 pounds, Villanueva’s size and speed were so uncommon for Army that his coaches were never quite sure how to best maximize his abilities. He played three positions in four years, starting off as a defensive lineman, developing into a starting left offensive tackle as a junior before converting to wide receiver as a senior and leading the team with 34 receptions, 522 yards and five touchdowns.

The Eagles have determined that his size will be best spent as a defensive end, a decision that is perfectly fine with Villanueva. After the constant shuffling in college, he is looking forward to finally being able to develop at one position.

“[Playing defense] is a lot different but the coaching has been great, so I’ve been able to learn from all of them,” Villanueva said. “If they think I have a better chance of playing defensive [line], I’ll play there.”

Having not played defense since the beginning of his sophomore year of college, Villanueva has relied heavily on his new teammates to learn defensive coordinator Billy Davis’ scheme, particularly two-time Pro Bowler Trent Cole and second-year defensive end Brandon Bair.

Although his height would seem to give him potential as a pass rusher, Villanueva has concentrated mostly on learning the run-stuffing techniques that come with playing defensive end in the 3-4.

“[Defensive line] coach [Jerry] Azzinaro has been adamant about the key points I can focus on,” Villanueva said. “In our scheme, striking and using my legs are those things. As we progress, hopefully I can put those things into play and improve from where I started.”

In reality, Villanueva’s focus is not on what position he plays as much as it is simply making the team.

A team captain his senior year at West Point, Villanueva's biggest adjustment has been adapting his mindset to fighting for a roster spot after being a key player in college.

Earning a spot on special teams will likely be his best chance to make the final roster; he spent much of Tuesday’s session practicing with the kick return unit.

“Playing football at Army is pretty special and obviously I have a lot more experience there,” Villanueva said. “[Playing for the Eagles] is a different situation. At Army I played four years and was always able to contribute and now I’m just trying to make the team.

“Making the team [is my goal], so if they put me on all the special teams that would be the best news.”

In his few weeks as an Eagle, Villanueva has already received numerous questions from his teammates about his time in the Army. He served three tours in Afghanistan during his four years of service.

Although he is eager to move on with this new chapter in his life as a professional athlete, Villanueva has no problem with teammates asking him about his past. If anything, the camaraderie in the locker room has been his favorite part of playing football again.

“Sometimes they ask about it (being in the army) when they have a question that’s been burning them,” Villanueva said. “Usually they have a question about how things are run. It’s a learning experience for a lot of them. My teammates have been awesome, so it’s been pretty fun overall.”

Eagles 2017 training camp position battle: Safety

Eagles 2017 training camp position battle: Safety

We went through the cornerbacks Thursday and that position is clearly much more of a mess than safety (see story).
 
In fact, the Eagles have a really good starting safety duo in Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod.
 
But over the last couple of years, the Eagles have used Jenkins as their slot cornerback in the nickel package. It's a position that Jenkins really enjoys playing — he loves being closer to the action. Except whenever Jenkins plays up as the slot corner, the team is forced to bring an extra safety off the bench.
 
Last season, that extra safety was Jaylen Watkins. When Jenkins moved up, Watkins would take the field. A former fourth-rounder from Florida, Watkins ended up playing 38 percent of the team's defensive snaps in 2016. That's a heckuva lot, especially considering that Jenkins and McLeod, the two guys ahead of him, missed a combined seven snaps.
 
Watkins beat out Chris Maragos for that third safety spot in 2016. The Eagles seem happy letting Maragos focus on being the all-time great special teams force he's been since coming to Philadelphia.
 
So Watkins is the incumbent fighting for that third safety job, but the other guy was with the Eagles last year, too.
 
The Eagles claimed Terrence Brooks off waivers from the Ravens just before the opener in 2016. Brooks played in 11 games but was primarily a special teams player. He played just three defensive snaps (but he did pull in his first career interception on that late bomb against the Giants in Week 16). The only reason Brooks got on the field in that game was because Watkins suffered a concussion.
 
While Brooks never really made it with Baltimore, the Ravens did draft him in the third round out of Florida State in 2014. That rookie year, he played 234 snaps before tearing his ACL. He played minimally in 2015 and was cut before last season began.
 
With a full offseason, Brooks ought to have a much better grasp of the Eagles' defense, and Watkins certainly didn't play well enough to be handed that third safety job again.
 
So while safety might seem like a secure position, it'll be one to watch this summer.

NFL Notes: Dez Bryant throws huge BBQ, then reportedly late for camp

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NFL Notes: Dez Bryant throws huge BBQ, then reportedly late for camp

LUFKIN, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant returned to his East Texas hometown to thank supporters with free barbecue that drew several thousand fans to a park.

Bryant was in Lufkin on Thursday afternoon for the outdoor event that included games and a chance to meet the NFL star as temperatures reached the 90s. Lufkin police spokeswoman Jessica Pebsworth on Friday estimated the crowd at about 3,000 and said two people were treated for heat exhaustion.

Pebsworth says everyone was excited to see Bryant and he was a great host.

Bryant says he decided a couple of days earlier to throw the catered event in Lufkin, a city of about 36,000 located 110 miles (177 kilometers) northeast of Houston.

The Cowboys open camp next week in Oxnard, California.

However, it appears that generosity caused Bryant to be a bit tardy. According to ESPN’s Todd Archer, Bryant was late on Friday to report for camp with the Cowboys’ other veterans.

Bengals: Jones suspended 1 game for altercation
CINCINNATI -- Bengals cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones has been suspended for the regular-season opener against Baltimore for his role in an altercation at a downtown hotel earlier this year.

Jones had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge stemming from the January incident, the latest in a history of off-the-field legal issues for the NFL veteran. The NFL said Friday that the suspension was for a violation of its personal conduct policy.

Police said Jones kicked and used head-butting as he was arrested for allegedly assaulting a hotel employee. He was arrested outside the hotel, and police video showed him protesting that he hadn't done anything to deserve it, loudly demanding, "Let me go!" and at times struggling with officers while yelling obscene insults. Video of Jones in the back of a police cruiser at one point showed him telling an officer: "I hope you die tomorrow."

Jones apologized in court for his behavior and specifically to Cincinnati police Sgt. Jarrod Cotton. His attorneys said he had been receiving treatment, including for anger management (see full story).

Chiefs: QB Mahomes inks rookie deal
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Chiefs have signed quarterback Patrick Mahomes to a four-year rookie contract.

Kansas City traded its first- and third-round picks this year and its first-round pick next year to the Buffalo Bills to grab the Texas Tech quarterback with the 10th overall selection.

It was the first time Kansas City had taken a quarterback in the first round since Todd Blackledge in 1983.

The Chiefs sent the No. 27 and No. 91 overall picks in this year's draft to Buffalo in order to acquire a successor to Alex Smith. The veteran starter has two years remaining on his contract, though Smith becomes inexpensive to release after next season.

Jets: Top pick Adams signs 4-year contract
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets on Friday signed safety Jamal Adams of LSU, the sixth overall pick in the draft.

Adams gets a four-year deal worth about $22 million. As with all first-round contracts under the current labor agreement, the Jets have a fifth-year option.

All nine of the Jets' selections in April's draft have signed.

A versatile defender, Adams had one interception and four passes defensed as a junior last season, committing zero penalties as he rarely was thrown at. For his three seasons at the school, he played in 37 games (26 starts) with five interceptions, 14 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one recovery, 209 tackles and 17 1-2 tackles for loss.

Adams is expected to be a starter this season for the rebuilding Jets.